Sharks

Sharks' Havlat remains a playoff rainmaker

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Sharks' Havlat remains a playoff rainmaker

BOX SCORE

ST. LOUIS -- Todd McLellan said he saw the old San Jose Sharks he had come to know and like in the overtime periods of Game 1 of this Western Conference quarterfinal.

They were calm. They were saying all the right things, the San Jose head coach said as he basked in the temporary warmth of the Sharks 3-2 double-overtime victory over St. Louis. Nobody was fidgeting.

With one notable exception.

I always fidget, he said.

And he fidgeted for good reasons Thursday. Despite the first true repayment on the Martin Havlat trade, despite Antti Niemis first official game theft of the postseason, despite the exemplary work of the fourth, er, third, er, DesjardinsWingelsWinnik line -- despite all these things, the Sharks were backing up just as much as they were pressing forward.

And therein lies the central truth of Game 1 of this series, which the Sharks lead, 1-0. They are playing a team that will make them look overmatched for elongated stretches, and they will have to cling on tightly to the younger and faster Blues to keep the games close enough to win.

What they have, in sum, is enough experience to keep the fidgeting to a minimum. They may still lose this series, but they wont do it by being either overwhelmed or easily defeated.

And they may win this series, but they wont do it without knowing that the Blues are good and getting better.

Look, they played good, we played good, St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. I thought there were stretches where we seemed to be in pretty good command.

But command isnt enough, as anyone who has just started watching hockey on Wednesday could tell. Theres the matter of finishing, and the Sharks, well, finished.

They finished because the Blues couldnt clear their zone for the games final 40 seconds, because Logan Couture, one of the Sharks de facto veterans, hit Ryane Clowe with a tape-to-tape pass and then had the wit to pick St. Louis defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, because Clowe found Havlat, who had nearly cost them the game in regulation, and Havlat did what he has done with considerable regularity in his career.

He scored an important postseason goal, beating Jaroslav Halak from 30 feet with a well-aimed slap shot and sending the alleged underdogs home one to the good. The goal was Havlats second of the game, and 15th in his last 27 playoff games.

I was just trying to do my part, Havlat said, seeking the most benign way to take credit for propelling the Sharks. It was good for me, because it was a stupid penalty that I took before, a penalty I cant take.

The penalty in question was his sluefooting of Halak behind the St. Louis net at 6:31 of the third. It was well behind the play, was thoroughly unhelpful even if he had gotten away with it, and it set up Patrik Berglunds seeming go-ahead goal.

But Havlat, who missed more than half the season, is a playoff rainmaker, and has been since 2003, when he helped get the Ottawa Senators into the Stanley Cup Final.

He is part of that experience the Sharks keep talking about as though it is the antivenom to St. Louis considerable bite. Niemi is part of that experience as well, and his 40 saves, 14 of which came in the first overtime, allowed Havlat to enjoy his evening. So was Coutures pick of Shattenkirk, a veteran ploy in a veterans game.

But there was also just enough youth, shown most clearly by Desjardins, Wingels and Winnik. They started the evening as the fourth line, had seven fewer shifts than the putative third line centered by Dominic Moore, but they played important minutes in the third period and the overtime, and it was their speed and persistence that created the game-tying goal 5:16 from last call.

In sum, the Sharks raised their game just enough, and held service just enough, to have enough of a cushion for Havlat to earn his bones, and give themselves a reason to believe that St. Louis may lose a bit of their belief. The Blues swept San Jose in the regular season, and it means zero this morning.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving

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Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving

The San Jose Sharks woke up this Thanksgiving and found themselves in a playoff spot, albeit barely. 

They hold the second and final wild card spot by the thinnest of margins, edging out the Colorado Avalanche not on points, games played, regulation and overtime wins, but a single goal in the goal differential column. 

As early as it is, it’s a critical time to be in playoff position. Since the NHL expanded to 30 teams in 2000, 79 percent of teams holding playoff spots on Thanksgiving made the postseason. 

If the Sharks avoid becoming a member of the dreaded 21 percent, they’ll have two players to thank, more than anyone else, for their good fortune: Logan Couture and Martin Jones. 

Couture, along with Joonas Donskoi, seems to be the only Shark unaffected by a team-wide scoring bug. Even as he’s cooled off slightly, his 11 goals are still tied for 10th-most in the league. 

He’s held a positive share of puck possession on the ice, despite starting the fourth-lowest percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone among Sharks forwards that have played at least 50 minutes this season, according to Corsica Hockey

Couture also leads the team in power play scoring with three goals, and is one of only three San Jose players that’s scored multiple times on the man advantage. It’s hard to imagine the league’s fourth-worst power play (15.1 percent) getting worse, but it undoubtedly would be without the 28-year-old.

While Couture has stood out among a hapless offense, Jones has led one of the league’s best defensive units. The Sharks are among the best teams at limiting shots and scoring chances across all situations, but Jones has not let them down. 

Although his .922 even-strength save percentage is 27th among 51 goalies that have played at least 200 minutes, San Jose’s given him a razor thin margin of error. He had the fifth-lowest goal support of any goalie entering last night, as statistician Darin Stephens noted, and his play has been good enough to keep the Sharks in games in spite of that. 

Jones has also led the way for the league’s best penalty kill, posting a .940 save percentage in shorthanded situations. That’s the best mark among goalies that have faced at least 80 shots on the penalty kill, according to Stephens.

The sustainability of Jones’ penalty kill dominance and Couture’s 20.8 shooting percentage is an open question, but their importance to the team early in the season cannot be overstated. They’ve helped keep the Sharks afloat, and in a playoff spot with history on their side at the critical Thanksgiving mark. 

The Sharks need to not only let them have extra helpings during their holiday feast, but find a way to give them more help on the ice too.

 

Jones strong in goal, contains Coyotes to snap Sharks' three-game skid

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Jones strong in goal, contains Coyotes to snap Sharks' three-game skid

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Logan Couture scored another goal for San Jose but was happier to see the Sharks' top line get untracked.

"We've got to get those guys going to help us offensively," Couture said of teammates Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier after the Sharks' 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night. "We need them to produce."

Thornton opened the scoring for the Sharks, with Pavelski adding an assist, the pair's first points since November 8, a span of five games.

"I think with Timo with us last game it brought us a lot of energy and a lot of chances," said Thornton, who scored his first goal since October 26. "Me and Pavs really like playing with him."

Joel Ward added an empty-net goal with 47.8 to play for the Sharks, who snapped a three-game losing streak.

"We got enough offense to win," said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. "That's all that matters. I thought we played a good road game. I don't care how it looks."

Brendan Perlini scored with 7:37 to go, ruining Sharks goalie Martin Jones' bid for his second shutout of the season. The Coyotes saw their season-high three-game winning streak snapped and lost for the eighth time in nine home games (1-7-1).

Jones finished with 26 saves.

"We defended really well," said Jones, who was tested seriously only twice in the first two periods. "The first 10 minutes they had a lot of jump and were buzzing around our zone, but after that not as much."

Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta left at 14:37 of the first period with an upper-body injury. Couture had collided with Raanta more than four minutes earlier, earning an interference penalty. Raanta skated to the bench during a stoppage in play and retreated to the locker room.

Scott Wedgewood took Raanta's place and was in net for only five seconds before the Sharks broke through. Wedgewood stopped Brent Burns' long shot from the top of the right circle even after it deflected off San Jose right wing Timo Meier. But the rebound kicked to the bottom of the right circle, where Thornton swept in and beat the goalie with a quick wrist shot.

"He (coach Rick Tocchet) looked at me and said go," Wedgewood. "I was like, alright. That's the tough part. Then shot, top, goal. That was tough."

San Jose made it 2-0 at 4:56 of the second, taking advantage of Arizona's inability to clear the zone while the Sharks were on a line change.

Justin Braun fought three Coyotes for the puck along the right boards before Joonas Donskoi swooped in, skated to the goal line then sent a pass across to Couture. Couture deked Wedgewood to the ice with a forehand fake, then scored on the backhand.

Perlini cut the lead to 2-1 when he redirected Derek Stepan's shot from the top of the right circle past Jones.

"We had some costly mistakes," Perlini said. "We got back within a goal but there were too many mistakes."

NOTES: Thornton has 22 goals and 83 points in 82 career games against Arizona. ... The Coyotes, who had played seven of their past eight on the road, opened a three-game homestand. ... Raanta made eight saves before leaving and has stopped 98 of the past 105 shots he's faced. ... Couture's goal was his first in five games.

UP NEXT:

Sharks: visit Las Vegas on Friday

Coyotes: host Los Angeles on Friday.